When the cold war officially ended about a couple of decades ago, the Western world started to learn many of the secrets that the Russians were keeping from us. Government policies, weapons information and space exploration aside, I think that one of the most significant “discoveries” was that of a plant known as Rhodiola Rosea. Rhodiola Rosea, also recognized as arctic root or golden root, is an adaptogen, having a nonspecific way of increasing the body’s natural resistance to physical and emotional stress, fatigue, depression, and illness. More powerful than Siberian ginseng, it grows wild at high altitudes in the arctic regions of Siberia. Siberians using rhodiola root tea were said to commonly live to over 100 years of age. In fact, it was secretly trafficked across the Russian border to China and used by ancient Chinese emperors seeking longevity and immortality. It is interesting to note that the Russian government was all too willing to share information about Siberian Ginseng with the rest of the world, of which there is significant scientific study. But, protected from observation behind the iron curtain, they were studying Rhodiola Rosea at the same time, and finding that it was the preferred herb to use. During the cold war Rhodiola Rosea was secretly used for Russian military officers, Olympic athletes, key political leaders, international financiers, cosmonauts, master chess players, and the researchers themselves. Adaptogens, as used in herbal parlance, are herbs that have a normalizing effect, are restorative as opposed to curative on equilibrium, and are pronounced as harmless and without side effects. They are called nature’s answer to stress, which is involved to some degree in all disease, injury, disability, and death and is at the root of a huge percentage of all illness, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. An organism becomes pre-adapted upon taking them, and is more capable of responding appropriately when stresses are encountered. To be an adaptogen a plant compound must meet three specific criteria…
- An adaptogen produces a nonspecific response to stress in an organism, for example, as increased resistance to multiple stressors including physical, chemical, or biological (as opposed to Echinacea, which produces a specific effect on the immune system).
- An adaptogen has a normalizing influence on physiology irrespective of the deviation of change from physiological norms caused by the stressor. In other words, it helps return cellular function to normal, regardless of the stress induced.
- An adaptogen is incapable of influencing normal body functions more than required to gain nonspecific resistance. In essence, the body will use what it needs and extra will just be wasted, not harmful.
- It prevents the cortisol and adrenaline burn on the heart by reducing their release by the adrenal glands during stress.
- It prevents the increase in cholesterol and triglycerides produced by stress.
- It improves athletic performance by affecting the following: increased muscle-to-fat ratio, hemoglobin and erythrocytes in the blood, the capacity to increase body weight, increase muscle ATP (energy) and creatine phosphate and mobilizing fatty acid stores during prolonged exercise.
- It can help eliminate depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and insomnia by enhancing the transport of serotonin precursors tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan into the brain and inhibiting two enzymes that metabolize serotonin, catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) and monoamine oxidase (MAO).
- It has potent antioxidant properties which help prevent diseases associated with aging and limits free radical damage, which is associated with cell mutations or cancer.
- It enhances our immune systems ability to fight against cancer by inhibiting the stress chemicals adrenaline and noradrenaline (these catecholamines suppress our body’s own natural killer cells, which kill cancer cells) and inhibiting cortisol (which inhibits other important chemicals in our body’s defense system, interleukin-2 and interferon).